Usually, I spend the weekend of the Grammys complaining about how boring their nominations are, but this year I gotta say they got it pretty right. At least in the arena of Americana, Roots, and World. I noticed too, that we'd actually reviewed some of the Grammy nominated artists in this latest issue of KITHFOLK. So here are our reviews of three artists we really like and good luck to them! Here's hoping they'll pick up a win!
Alice Gerrard. Follow the Music.
2014. Tompkins Square.
The doyenne of the American old-time music scene, Alice Gerrard has had a huge effect on the roots music today. From her pioneering work with Appalachian singer Hazel Dickens that paved the way for most women in bluegrass and country music (Emmylou Harris acknowledges this debt) to her work with Mike Seeger helping form old-time music into a real genre, to her founding of the Old-Time Herald magazine and her continued work inspiring multiple generations, you won’t be able to understand American roots music today if you don’t understand Alice Gerrard’s music. Recently she’s moved more towards songs she’s written herself, and no surprise she’s a powerhouse songwriter. We worked on her previous album, Bittersweet, and that was crammed full of memorable songs inspired by the great folk musicians she’s collaborated with along the way. I’d been hearing about this new album for a while and was really excited. It’s finally out and it’s a triumph. Alice collaborates with indie roots folks out of her home region of Durham and Raleigh, NC, including members of Megafaun (another Megafaun collaboration that blew me away this year was Sylvan Esso). The key to the album is her collaboration with M.C. Taylor, aka Hiss Golden Messenger, who produced it. Taylor is an amazing folk singer and he himself released one of the best indie roots albums this year with his solo album The Lateness of Dancers. Here as producer, he puts Alice’s voice and lyrics front and center, reveling in her aged vocals. And when she’s singing songs like “Follow the Music” or “Strange Land”, you’ll really get why this wouldn’t work with a younger singer. Alice has a ton left to say and the real folk music heads better sit up and take listen now.
Bonsoir, Catin. Light the Stars.
2014. Valcour Records.
Issued by the always-great record label Valcour Records, the new album from Louisiana belles Bonsoir, Catin is just what the doctor ordered in the world of Cajun music. Though women have historically been front and center in Cajun music (shouts to Cléoma Falcon), they haven’t always been bandleaders, accordionists or powerhouse personalities. Bonsoir, Catin rock HARD, as hard as any Cajun band ever made, and it’s great that they’re out in front of the scene now. In fact, this album was just nominated for a Grammy! Bonsoir Catin is basically a supergroup, with each member being involved in their own well-received solo projects. Acoustic guitarist Christine Balfa comes from the Balfa Toujours clan, bassist Yvette Landry is a killer country songwriter and released a wonderful country album of her own in 2014, fiddler Anya Burgess plays in the Magnolia Sisters (also up for a 2014 Grammy), accordionist Kristi Guillory is a great songwriter and has her own solo album an project, and electric guitarist Meagan Berard plays in her own group Sweet Cecilia and played with her father, the great Al Berard, whose much lamented passing has shaken up the Cajun music community this year. Together, Bonsoir, Catin are nigh-on unstoppable. Guillory pens most of the songs on the new album and she’s one of the few Cajun artists writing original songs in Cajun French. Great songs too, slow-burner “Jours si longs” (The Days Are So Long) aches with heartbreak laid over a fiercely defiant accordion line. There’s a lot of variety to this album, which is the real delight here. I can listen to a lot of traditional Cajun dance music, and have done so, but I also love to hear where the tradition is going today. “Baby, Please Don’t Go” turns in a blazing cover filled with surly fiddles and overclocked vocals that hint at a much rougher edge than I usually hear in Cajun dancehalls. It proves that Cajuns get the blues too! Pick this disc up to hear what Cajun music sounds like today!
Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen. Cold Spell.
2014. Compass Records.
2014 has GOT to be Frank Solivan’s year. The bluegrass mandolinist, singer, songwriter, and bandleader (of Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen) is up now for a Grammy for this year’s album, Cold Spell, and just pulled down a win at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards for Instrumental Group of the Year. Yeah, there’s no denying every person in the Dirty Kitchen band is a mad picker. Guitarist Chris Luquette, new to the band this year, is a breakout star, rightfully garnering awards and lighting up stages with his humble, yet pyrotechnic picking. Banjo picker Mike Munford is one of the best in the business and acknowledged as such. Danny Booth was one of Alaska’s hottest bluegrass exports before Frank snapped him up. And through it all, Solivan rocks as a bandleader. His affable personality, shiny pate, soaring vocals, and lightning fast mandolin skills put him front and center in the group, and–god forgive me here come the cooking analogies–he’s clearly the head chef on the new album. Cold Spell, released via Compass Records, is a complex, virtuosic tour-de-force and rare in that all the viruotosity doesn’t overshadow its listenability. Like any great chef, Solivan is a master at mixing very different ingredients. When your opening track runs almost six minutes long and blends 80s power ballad influences (in a very good way) with bluegrass songwriting, you need the hand of a master craftsman to guide the ship. I wouldn’t trust many other people to cut an album like this, but Solivan’s goal here is clearly to delight and surprise the listener with unexpected sounds and directions. I get the feeling that if you were to listen to this album in the room with him, he’d have that same, happy chef’s smile he must get when his dinner guests rave about his cooking. Take a trip with a master chef with Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen’s new album and you don’t even have to leave your home!
Issue #3 of KITHFOLK featured an original recipe from Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen.
CLICK HERE to check it out.